Atzin Helps Special Needs of 85 Children & Adults

by Atzin Mexico / Atzin Desarrollo Comunitario AC
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 85 Children & Adults
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 85 Children & Adults
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 85 Children & Adults
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 85 Children & Adults
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 85 Children & Adults
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 85 Children & Adults
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 85 Children & Adults
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 85 Children & Adults
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 85 Children & Adults
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 85 Children & Adults
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 85 Children & Adults
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 85 Children & Adults
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 85 Children & Adults
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 85 Children & Adults
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 85 Children & Adults
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 85 Children & Adults
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 85 Children & Adults
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 85 Children & Adults
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 85 Children & Adults
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 85 Children & Adults
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 85 Children & Adults
Atzin Helps Special Needs of 85 Children & Adults
Areceli interviewing household cook.
Areceli interviewing household cook.

The reality for the poorest families in Tlamacazapa is that if the adults don't work that day, the family doesn't eat. There is literally next to nothing in the kitchen for tomorrow.

Perhaps you, the reader, will say that I am stretching the truth in order to make a point. I wish that I was. This is a hand-to-mouth existence, and explains why so many children abandon their schooling in order to help their families earn money to buy food or do not enroll in school to begin with, or why parents cannot attend to their child with special needs.

This truth came sharply into focus again very recently. In 2017-18 with financing from Rotary Club Lethbridge (Alberta, Canada), Atzin distributed green ecological rocket stoves to 300 families trapped in acute poverty and cooking over an open, three-rock fire.

To better understand the adoption of the stoves, two young village women interviewed the female household head about family size, cooking habits and meal customs. Importantly, they inquired about the food on hand and asked to see it, noting the quantity of every ingredient.

Reviewing the questionaire findings, even the Atzin team was surprised... and dismayed. Half of the families had absolutely no food in the house. Another 25% had only a small amount - a kilo of dried beans, half of a cup of cooking oil or some white rice.

The drastic increase in the price of gasoline - a state-owned business - over the past year has, in turn, driven up the cost of living dramatically throughout the country. Households already struggling to survive are now much more on edge. 

Parents of a child with special needs are now dealing with the higher cost of food AND having to cover the expenses of attention. You are assisting with their transport, medical appointments, vitamins and supplements, and accompaniment. With your support, we aim to do more. 

Thank you, Susan

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Children benefit from education & health programs.
Children benefit from education & health programs.

Dear Friends of Tlamacazapa and Atzin, 

Wonder-filled, relief-giving news: Atzin’s Literacy for Adults and Youth: Reading the World project was selected as Project of the Month for January 2019 by GlobalGiving!  Hundreds of individual monthly donations are pooled to “make one donation to a different earth-changing idea each month,” providing vital support across programs. 

To be honest, we were overcome with emotions, seeing this selection as a true godsend. Let me fill you in on the background. Since about mid-2014, the people of Mexico generally have experienced ever increasing violence and corruption, especially in Guerrero (where we work) as well as in other states. Prices have risen drastically; rural families now suffer deeper poverty and constant tension. 

Volunteers and visitors stopped coming, and each year, it has become harder and harder to find funding, even for our basic programs of education and health. We cut back more and more programming as well as staff, squeezed every peso twice, recycled, repaired and reused everything possible, and sought out alternative ways to bring in money - each time, just barely managing to keep things going in the face of acute need.

At Atzin, our task is to create real opportunities for people trapped in poverty and violence to gain capacities and confidence. The task is incessantly demanding but it can be done, and feels right and good.

To all of you, we offer a heartfelt thank you for your generosity and trust in our work. You will never know just how much this vote of confidence means to us.

With warmest wishes for a peaceful and prosperous 2019, 


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December, 2018

Dear Friends of Atzin and Tlamacazapa,

As the new year approaches, I paused to reflect on the beginnings of Atzin in Tlamacazapa in early 1997, and came across writing that I did shortly before arriving in Mexico. Its content is as true to me now as it was then. Our work in community "is like a tree, deeply rooted in people's realities, grounded to the earth.... Our work flows like a river, finding its way. Sometimes deep and calm; sometimes shallow and turbulent; still at other points, with seemingly stagnant swamps. We climb steep mountains to create connections and change. Following a small path of questioning and discovery, we will circle up the mountain many times, with each turn finding a broader, more enriched view."

For over 20 years, Atzin has been there for the people of Tlamacazapa. The toxicity and acute poverty of the village are complex problems, resulting in acute need for many families. At Atzin, we know that our task is to create real opportunities for people to gain capacities and confidence. The task is incessently demanding, bringing both tension and joy.

When we struggle together to meet challenges, we deepen our moral fortitude, our abilities to care and to be cared for; and our grasp of rooted inter-connectedness. Igniting sparks of hope, we again commit to a meaningful way of life. It can be done - it feels right and good. 

Help us to climb that mountain and make a genuine difference in people's lives. Support the long haul of development with all its swamps and turbulence. Please donate to assist children and elderly with special needs - be a hero of the heart, right and good.

Thank you as always, with appreciation, 

Susan, Director of Atzin Mexico


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Midwife Victoria in a pensive moment
Midwife Victoria in a pensive moment

Dear Friends, 

Lately, I have been thinking about the “long haul” in Tlamacazapa, Mexico. Sometimes people comment, “What? Are you still working there?” as though there is something amiss with continuing to focus on work in a tough setting. Or perhaps, that somehow everything should be fine by now, and Atzin should have moved onto somewhere else.

Victoria never married having dedicated her earlier years to the care of her paraplegic younger brother. While drawing water from an open well, she explained, “I cannot read or write, but I completed Atzin’s training for midwifery. Because I attend deliveries at night, people have called me a ‘streetwalker’ and sometimes talked bad about me. They still do until they need my help with a birth! Now I am stronger and go about my business, ignoring their talk.”

When faced with continued suffering, brave women are now taking unprecedented risks and are slowly transforming their fear into action and greater self-confidence. These experiences accumulate to strengthen their personal resilience, allowing more effective responses to the demands of their lives and the needs of their children.

There is no “wow” of rapid change here, not when faced with such oppressive circumstances. Instead, each person finds her voice in her own time and steadies her feet in her own way when she is ready to do so. We then witness the rising of a stronger inner resilience that permits a weathering of life’s inevitable storms.

Our job in community development has always been the creation of opportunities - ones that allow glimpses of possibility. Each person then decides “yes” or “no” to participation. Such is the nature of life-affirming advances that are based on decisions to keep up the work over the long haul, both for us at Atzin and for individual women and men of Tlamacazapa.

Until next time, Susan


Midwife VIctoria draws water at the well.
Midwife VIctoria draws water at the well.


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Dear Friends, this report addresses a basic need of all families: clean and sufficient water and adequate sanitation. This story speaks to the everyday realities of development work in difficult settings. Here is what happened and what we learned from the experience. It is a bit long so you might want to grab a chair... 

In Tlamacazapa, a rural mountainous village of 6,200 people, over an eight-year period, the Atzin team constructed a total of 60 dry toilets and rainwater catchment tank units in family households plus several rainwater catchment systems and dry toilets at local schools. In a nutshell, a dry toilet separates urine from feces using a specially designed toilet seat. Feces drops into a large vault that forms the base of the toilet building and is stored for several months until dry and then removed. Urine drains via piping into a small garden plot or into a container. Most families were using open-air excretion and an assortment of barrels and buckets to store water. A few wealthier families had constructed water flush toilets and dug a septic hole nearby. This was problematic because of the proximity to water wells and acute shortages of water during the six-month dry season.

Our dry toilet and tank construction program (DTT) was doing very well – families with the units were clearly more than satisfied and all units were in daily use. The program incorporated the training and ongoing supervision of a local construction crew of four village men; educational sessions on the care, use and maintenance of the unit with follow-up visits; and clear agreements on Atzin responsibilities and family contributions (one adult working each day while the crew was building the basic unit using metal molds for poured concrete; provision of water and gravel or sand; and a small monetary contribution based on a sliding scale). The total cost of a complete unit consisting of a dry toilet, a 7,800L tank, walled garden, piping, concrete laundry washbasin, materials, transport and labour was 15,000 pesos. The program had a waiting list of families that were making payments for their contribution and gathering gravel in preparation for construction.

In 2009 the municipal government announced that it would fund the construction of dry toilets for village households. The municipal president (who privately owned two stores selling construction materials) asked Atzin to submit a proposal and budget, and we quickly did so. We also had received a new visitor the previous week who had expressed great interest in our DTT units and their functioning. He explained that he worked in the western part of the municipality and saw good potential for dry toilets. The team readily gave him a walking tour and our educational materials, explaining the program in detail and inviting him to come again.

Later that month, the municipality announced that the tender to build 500 dry toilets throughout the village had been awarded to a local construction company, headed up by… the man who had visited us, a close friend of the municipal president as we later found out. His crew – all men from outside the village - moved in and rapidly built more than 500 simple toilet structures made of sheets of styrofoam with wire mesh and a coating of concrete. That project had no education, cost-sharing, family participation or follow-up components. The structures had two vaults for feces but the contractor had not understood the handling of urine in the design nor done any further research. Urine flowed from the toilet PVC pipes onto the ground or flowed down the street. The cost of each toilet: 25,500 pesos.

Dismayed, we wrote a letter to the municipal president offering to improve the toilets’ functioning and repeatedly requested a meeting with him. There was no response. Overall, villagers disliked those toilets (many used them only for the storage of goods), saying that they had been denied a “proper” water-based toilet, and a negative attitude toward dry toilets grew exponentially.

The result for Atzin’s DTT program? A total halt by mid-2010, despite the fact that our original 60 family households continued to use their DTT units every day. But no new families signed up.

What did the Atzin team learn from this experience?

  1. The visitor was manipulative and took advantage of the team’s willingness to share information. Could we have detected his ulterior motive at the time? No.
  2. Corruption at a government level is characterized by conflicts of interest and political maneuvering. Could we have known that this tender had a pre-determined selection of winner and underlying profits for all concerned? No.
  3. The overall design of any program really matters. The differences in the programs were glaringly obvious. Ours was developmental in nature, slowly working with families to build knowledge, authentic participation and family ownership, while giving local men training and employment. The other was just a construction project (inadequately) done by outsiders for villagers, and given the high cost of each simple structure, had significant for-profit margin and likely, percentages paid out to intermediaries. A consequent tidal wave of negative reactions from families resulted in an overall public rejection of dry toilet technology.   
  4. A solid program, built over years, can be undermined by sudden, strong external forces in the local context. Could we have prevented this at the time? I doubt it. Several factors were in play: the small size of our team limited our reach; the physical distance to the municipal centre made visits to officials an effort; municipal officials changed often so that we were constantly starting over again in terms of building relationships with government; and, a lack of transparency at the municipal level was the norm, not the exception. Important to note, agreement about participation in the DTT program had been negotiated on a household by household basis, and not on a community level. This program decision stemmed from longstanding animosity between village families and its neighbourhoods as well as the annual turnover and frequent absences of elected village representatives. That made any agreement about any course of action by village assemblies (which only men attended) very difficult, if not almost impossible, to achieve. In turn, however, this meant that we had no broad village-based representation in any negotiations with government.

How did this experience help Atzin improve and increase impact?

As a team we worked to resolve our irritation about these maneuvers and had no option but to put construction of DTT units on a back burner and wait. We focused more tightly on education and health programming - there were specific benefits to this decision. It was tough to find the right words to explain to Atzin Boards and donors that our program had come to a complete halt; and that it was not going to be resurrected any time soon.

Looking back, we could have been more proactive. We could have continued with just the construction of household water tanks instead of waiting to see how the overall situation unfolded. We now invest more time on relationships with allies and supporters; we know better who our (potential) allies are. We document more thoroughly and more readily contact sympathetic news reporters with analyses and photos when necessary, always walking a fine line of assertiveness and safety. For our next major construction initiative (already on our agenda as a wellness centre for women and families and shelter), we will have to have a thoughtful strategy with sufficient preparation time, and a large enough base of organized women and their extended families at the ready.

Thank you all for your support of Atzin programs - much needed and appreciated. As always, Susan.

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Organization Information

Atzin Mexico / Atzin Desarrollo Comunitario AC

Location: Cuernavaca, Morelos - Mexico
Facebook: Facebook Page
Twitter: @N/A
Project Leader:
Susan Smith
Cuernavaca, Morelos Mexico
$63,352 raised of $95,000 goal
601 donations
$31,648 to go
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